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An insider's guide to the Asian Games

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(CNN) -- The 15th Asian Games is taking place in Doha, the capital city of the small Arabian state of Qatar. The cream of the continent's athletes are in the oil-rich nation for the two-week extravaganza. The Briefing Room brings you some facts and figures about an event dubbed the "Asian Olympics."

What's it all about?

Qatar has spent billions of dollars bringing the Asian Games to the Arab world for the first time. It hopes part of the return on its investment is an improved perception from the West. Like the Olympic Games and the football World Cup finals, the Asian Games are held every four years (apart from the three-year gap between the inaugural competition in New Delhi in 1951 and the 1954 Manila Games.) A total of 45 countries are competing in 46 different disciplines, ranging from universal sports like athletics, cycling, football and swimming to more region-orientated activities like kabaddi, sepak takraw and wushu.

What are Kabaddi, Sepak Takraw and Wushu?

Kabaddi is played with two teams of 12 players -- seven on court and five in reserve -- alternating between defense and offense. The object is to reach the highest score by touching or capturing the opposing team's players, while continuously chanting "kabaddi-kabaddi". Points are scored by raiding into the opponents' court and touching as many defense players as possible without getting caught. Players on the defensive side are called "antis", while those on the offense are "raiders". The raider enters the opponent's court chanting the word "kabaddi" while holding his breath and has to continue to do so until he returns to his home court. Antis touched by a raider during the attack are declared "out" if they do not succeed in catching the raider before he returns to his home court. India have won all four Asian Games titles, with Bangladesh and Pakistan the other dominant nations.
Sepak Takraw is a cross between football and volleyball -- also known as kick volleyball -- played on a badminton doubles-sized court. Two teams compete for higher scores by spiking a ball into the opponents court. Each team gets three chances to kick, knee, shoulder or head the ball back to the opposing team. As in volleyball there are passes, sets and spikes -- but the strokes must be made football-style: No hands or arms are allowed.
Wushu, the Chinese word for "martial art," is composed of two disciplines: Taolu (routines) and sanshou (combat). The competitive routines are based on different styles of techniques and movements. Performances include bare hands, sword and broadsword as short apparatus; spear and cudgel as long apparatus. Both are characterized by deliberate and powerful movements (stances, kicks, punches, balances, jumps and sweeps) particular to the style. Competitors are given points based on their "taolu" or "forms," which are martial art patterns and maneuvers.

Which nations are competing in Doha?

Major Asian nations like China, Korea and Japan have the largest squad of athletes -- in fact Japan is the only country with a representative in every single sport. Four years ago in Busan, South Korea, these three nations collected a whopping 758 medals between them with China miles clear in the final table with 150 golds alone. The smallest contingent this year comes from the tiny sultanate of Brunei, which has just seven competitors attending; four in karate and three in ten-pin bowling

Look out for Hercules.

Hossein Rezazadeh is perhaps the most recognizable competitor in the whole of the Games. Known as "Hercules" in his native Iran, where he has achieved iconic status, the 28-year man mountain is a double Olympic champion and multiple world record holder in weightlifting's super heavyweight division, making him undoubtedly the strongest sportsman in the world. Standing at 6 feet 1 inch and weighing-in at a colossal 24 stone, he is such a celebrity in Iran that his wedding in 2003 was broadcast live on state television. Prior to his gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, the Turkish Weightlifting Federation offered him $20,000 a month, a luxury villa and a $10 million reward, if he switched flags to win gold for Turkey in Athens. He responded to the offer with the following statement: "I am an Iranian and I love my country and people." He has already won the snatch title at the Games.

What will it be remembered for?

The bad: One of host country's biggest medal hopes, long-distance runner Saif Saeed Shaheen, withdrew just before the games started because of an Achilles tendon injury. Shaheen was born in Kenya but has won two world championship titles for Qatar. The 24-year-old is world record holder in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Sadly, tragedy marred the Games on Thursday as a South Korea competitor was killed during the three-day event equestrian competition. Kim Hyung-chil died after taking a crashing fall during the individual cross country section. The 47-year-old, a silver medal winner in the three-day team event at the 2002 Asian Games, didn't regain consciousness after the fall and died shortly afterwards. (Full story)

The good: On a more positive note, a massive 55 years separates the youngest and oldest competitors. Iraq's Amer Ali, who turned 10 in August, is competing in the swimming competitions. He was slowest in the heats of the 200-meter backstroke, but told poolside reporters that one day he hopes to win gold for his nation. At the other end of the age scale Alan Puan Teik Chong, 65, of Singapore will take part in cue sports, where he is entered for the billiards and is aiming for a medal.

The Vietnamese women's team were ecstatic to beat Sepak Takraw powerhouse Thailand on Wednesday in the women's team final match to scoop the country's first gold medal. The final took a thrilling four hours.

China looks in good shape ahead of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. It leads the medal table in Doha, picking up 145 medals to date. Japan follows in second place with 85 medals, and Korea has 83. Chinese weightlifter Chen Yanqing set five world records in winning the women's 58kg class during the Asian Games. Swimmer Pang Jiaying has picked up four gold medals and two silvers for China.

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Hossein Reza Zadeh, known as "Hercules" in his native Iran.





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